Saturday, 30 August 2014

Sit right down and I'll tell you a story.

This is a bit of a follow up to the post I wrote a few weeks ago - the one where I talked about how two of the most important rules I follow when I write are making it flow and keeping it colourful.

I've been thinking a bit more about my style of writing (partly because that's what I tend to think about when I've got nothing else to do, but also because there's so much information being put out about how we writers should be writing). I think that what I'm going to say here doesn't necessary go against what I said in that previous post - it's just adding an additional dimension to it.

When it comes down to it, I see myself as a storyteller. And the main function of storytellers is to (cue drumroll) tell stories.

I see myself as part of a proud tradition. I'm the guy sitting by the fire, keeping all the cave-people thrilled with tales of frightening sabre-tooth tigers. I'm the fellow in the barn, entertaining the farmers after a busy day in the field. In many ways, I'm a really important part of the glue that hold a community together.

When I think about my approach to storytelling, I place myself in the position of the person sitting in front of an audience, trying to keep them enthralled merely by the power of my words. As I reach out in my head for the right words to use, the question I'm always asking myself is, "How would I say it?"

That's kind of as simple as it is. I don't need to craft sparkling prose. I don't need to keep university academics busy analysing everything I say. I just want to find the best way to word my story, as if I was the one telling it. That's the tone and the voice that I'm always after.

Of course, it really isn't that simple. That's where the supporting rules, like keeping the flow and making it colourful, come in. That's where I really get to think about how I, as a storyteller, keep those listeners on the edge of their seats, ears peeled for every next word, and also how I make sure that each of them is immersed, as if they're actually living the story.

Storytelling is fun. Even though I'm not the guy sitting in front of a live audience, that's still the way I feel when I write. I try to wring every bit of energy and excitement I can out of a story, for my audience's benefit. Wherever they might be, I hope I can provide them with an unforgettable experience.

1 comment:

  1. Now this is where you and I differ. I’m not a storyteller. In fact I tend to look down my nose on books that are “just stories”. I always feel let down even if it’s a decent story. I want layers. I want more to be going on. I want stuff to think about afterwards. I suppose this goes right back to the earliest stories I read and loved, Enid Blyton’s retellings of the Brer Rabbit Stories and in particular ‘The Wonderful Tar-Baby’ and ‘Mister Lion’s Soup’. When my daughter was born I made sure she had a complete set of all the books published by Dean & Son. Another book I love is Mr. Worry by Roger Hargreaves which I can just about recite word for word. Again, it’s not just a story.

    I was never much of a joke teller growing up. I’m still not. The kind of humourists I prefer are those who take us on a journey so I’m not against the storytelling tradition but I think what storytellers—I’m thinking of the oral tradition here—and stand-up comics have in common is the performance. They don’t just tell a story: they enact it. They raise it to another level. I’ve often been frustrated when writing that I can’t add something of that into my writing. Oddly enough I’m anti-smileys but there are times when I’d like to underline the fact that I’m being ironic of facetious when I’m saying something. A girl recently picked me up for a comment on feminism I made in a blog and I had to write back to her and explain what I meant and, of course, if I’d read the sentence out loud to her she’d immediately realise I was poking fun at men and not women but how was I going to punctuate that?

    But I do agree with you when it comes to the words we choose. If a novel can’t be read aloud with ease then it’s bad prose even if you never intend it to be read aloud. I went over and over my last book tweaking every sentence. Every time I tripped over a word I rewrote the sentence and then went back a bit a read through it again to see if my change was better or worse. In that respect writing is very different to storytelling because you can aim for perfection. I guess it’s the difference between a studio album and a live concert. They both have their charms.